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Perspective: I Asked For Wisdom

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“Could you send us an article?” Andrew Sullivan, the editor of the New Republic asked in a phone call. He was responding to a letter about how as a college instructor, I’d observed that I wasn’t sure young black men wanted to take advantage of the academic help being offered. I kept my voice calm. “Sure,” I said. Maybe this was my big break.

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My writer’s group would have said, “You can’t say that racist thing,” but I’d quit going. Sullivan did not berate me. He ignored me. When I called to follow up, his assistant said they’d passed. I tremble to think how I’d be treated these days.

I was awkward with the young man I wrote about. I misunderstood some things he said, and his past interaction with another student unsettled me. I am sure I said things wrong when I spoke to my department chair. But he worked with me.

Yes, I had racist opinions born of the mug shots on TV. How did I overcome them? People like Andrew Sullivan, my chair, and my students did not cancel me. At times, my students did what Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility encourages: They confronted me. I stood, red-faced, in front of the class, apologizing for stereotyping, for forgetting their names.

But mostly I sat in front of those classes, as a rich white lady, not pretending to be someone else, and they sat around me, young people with rich stories to tell, with much to teach me about their lives. I asked for wisdom. They gave it.  

I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.

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